An Education in Social Justice Part 2

War-On-DrugsIn my last post, I mentioned an encounter with two very different faces of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). Those faces were the elder and the younger. Thursday morning I walked through Stage II chatting with the exhibitors. I stopped to talk to a young man seated at an exhibit for Spencer Perkins Ministries. He picked up a brochure and pointed to the many facets of the ministry. I asked David how he became involved in CCDA. “I was born into it,” he replied. I knew Spencer Perkins Center was the ministry of Dr. John Perkins and assumed I was talking to his son. I was talking to his grandson. “Do you experience the kind of racism your grandfather did?” I inquired. His answer surprised me. He acknowledged that there will always be a few racist people, but spoke like the African American fight for civil rights had been won, and it was time to move on. His words were encouraging and gave me hope that my grandchildren would grow up in a nation that treats all of its citizens fair.

I was encouraged until I attended the Friday morning plenary session. The intelligent, charismatic author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, made a valid point about the consequences of severe penalties imposed on drug abusers. She initially rejected the notion that America’s war on drugs is the New Jim Crow, but changed her mind after working with young black men suffering the consequences of merciless laws. The quandary of a young man who had been framed, and was now a felon because he feared a long-term prison sentence if he did not take a plea had a dramatic effect on her. Several months later, a newspaper article confirmed that the young man had told her the truth. The article revealed that a Drug Task Force of a local Police station had abused their powers to target African Americans. They planted drugs and then harassed them into taking plea deals, making them ineligible for public assistance. The experience prompted Alexander to do more research which lead her to the conclusion that America’s war on drugs is a form of Jim Crow.

During her message, she said something that made me question the hope instilled in me by the younger David Perkins. Alexander said, “…all though this drug war may have been born with black folks in mind, they may have been the number one target in this drug war, this drug war has destroyed the lives of people of all colors.” At the conclusion of the morning plenary session Noel Castellanos, the CEO of CCDA said, “I feel burdened.” I also felt burdened. Did white people conspire to start a War on Drug with the sinister intent of oppressing “black folks”?

The statements Alexander made in the video and the one I quoted in the previous paragraph do not negate the fact that the War on Drugs created a problem that needs to be rectified. According to the Bible severe penalties that do not fit the crime “will degrade him [the criminal] to something less than human” (Deuteronomy 25:3, The Message). On that point, I agree with Alexander. The punishment should fit the crime. I also agree that treatment should precede prison sentences.

However, Alexander’s belief that the war on drugs was started to oppress “black folks” and the fight for civil rights has been rolled back to the beginning reflects a strong contrast between the elder and the younger’s view of the world we live in. The younger implied the battle has been won. Our fathers made the world a better place. The elder claimed America is in a color-blind stupor blinding us to the fact we are still living in the days of Jim Crow.

Please view the six minute video before you read the rest of this article.

I stated in my last post about my experience at CCDA that misinformation and assumptions divide us. Several years ago, I was invited to the Pagan’s Ostara picnic by a friend who is a Pagan, so I could write about their beliefs. I asked the same question of everyone I spoke to. “Why are you a Pagan?” Without fail each person began with a story about a bad experience in the Christian church. I could have easily refuted the errors they were taught by well-intentioned Christians, but it would have betrayed their trust. I wasn’t there to proselytize. I concluded the article about the picnic by rebuking my Christian brethren for driving people to other forms of worship with their lack of love and erroneous doctrines. I allowed my Pagan friend to review the article before I released it. We agreed that there was nothing in the article that would be offensive to Pagans.

Someone posted my article to Witchvox (an internet site used by Pagans nationwide to communicate with one another).  Within 48 hours, 4,000 pagans read about my experience at the Ostara picnic. Most left angry comments based on assumptions about me. The Pagans decried my parents for forcing Christianity down my throat. The truth – my choice to be a Christian was independent of my parents and their influence on my life. My mother was indifferent to my conversion to Christianity. I walked to church while my parents slept late on Sunday. My father, who is deceased, was an alcoholic who allowed me to drink to excess as young as ten years old and occasionally watched pornography in the living room. When I converted to Christianity, he said, “I would rather have you back on drugs than in this Jesus stuff.” He forbid me from attending church and physically abused me for attempting to share my faith with him. Assumptions had colored the Pagans perspective of me and my message. The Pagan who knew me understood the purpose of the article. The angry Pagans saw me through the eyes of their own painful experiences, which blinded them to the fact that I concluded the article by rebuking Christians, not Pagans.

I told you the Pagan story so you will understand why I want you to know a little about me before I address the most sensitive subject of racism. I am not a political or civil rights activists. While I vote for and pray for the leaders of my nation, I embrace the Christian concept that this is not my world. True justice and equality can only be found in Jesus, and in the city God is building for his people. The New Jerusalem is scheduled to arrive on planet earth at minimum a thousand years in the future. Until then, we can hold injustice at bay regardless of who controls human governments by asking God to intervene.

I live in a predominately black neighborhood. All of my eldest son’s friends were black. Most still are. My first grandchild, the result of a relationship my daughter-in-law had before she met and married my son, is naturally darker than the rest of the family. Her four-year-old sister has already asked why. My husband grew up in El Paso as a white minority. He was verbally and physically abused by the predominately Hispanic population in his high school for no other reason than he was white. I have been oppressed, marginalized and treated with condescension by both Christian and non-Christian men. I was accused of being racists by a black woman when I failed to return a greeting. I did not hear her greet me. If I had, I would have gladly turned around to flashed a warm smile and taken the time to chat.

Now, let’s return to the contradiction I found at CCDA between the younger and the elder. The younger David did not see the world the way Alexander and the elders who identified with her message did. Was the war on drugs born with the intent of oppressing “black folk” as she asserted in her message? Has America hatched a sinister plot to keep a worse form of Jim Crow Alive? I left the morning plenary session wondering who started the war on drugs, and if it was a conspiracy to continue the oppression of “black folks”.

That evening, while downloading video from my camera, I Googled “War on Drugs” and found a vast amount of information. The subject is too complex for simplistic answers. Briefly, the first laws against drug use were directed at the opium use of Chinese immigrants in the late 1800’s. Nixon was the first president to openly declare a war on drugs when drug use became socially acceptable in the 60s and 70s. According to Frontlines “Thirty Years of America’s Drug War – a Chronology”, during the Nixon era the majority of funding was used for treatment rather than law enforcement. The bulk of the chronology outlines America’s war with Mexican Drug Lords. The Drug Abuse Act of 1986 allocated 97 million to new prisons and more than four times that amount, 400 million, to education and treatment. The bill also introduced mandatory minimum sentencing which produced racial disparities in the prison population.

I do not doubt that laws were abused by racist law enforcement officers to target African Americans. However, I do not believe Alexander’s claim that the War on Drugs was born with “black folks” in mind. A valid point about the detrimental effect of merciless laws can be made without making it a conspiracy against one race.

One of my reasons for rejecting the elder Alexander’s claim comes from my Christian perspective. Jesus left us one commandment. Love one another. According to the Bible love “trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back…”(1 Corinthians 13:3-7, MSG). God believed the best of humanity when he had no reason to and his love brings out the best in us. When we seek to right injustices, we would make quicker progress with less resistance if we adopted David Perkins attitude. He knows freedom from racism will never be 100%, but he doesn’t see race first. All of man’s righteousness is a filthy rag compared to God’s. Sometimes the reason behind injustice is the implementation of human solutions to complex problems, which produce greater problems that were unforeseen.

The younger David said, “The trail blazers did the work and made society a better place.” Yet the elder cried we are in a color blind stupor, nothing has changed, Jim Crow is still alive. Alexander did not come to her conclusion lightly. She had experience, studies and statistics to back up her claims. But the truth is seldom found in experience, human research and statistics. Truth is found in God.

My reason for believing the younger David’s perspective comes from an understanding of God’s ways. It is God’s way to put truth in the mouth of the younger. Jacob’s sons bowed to their younger brother Joseph who taught them love and forgiveness. When God sent Samuel to anoint a new king, Samuel was impressed with the elder sons of Jesse. God chose to lead the nation through the youngest son of Jesse who wasn’t even invited to the anointing party. The truth was in the mouth of a young thirty-year-old carpenter named Jesus, not the elders who diligently served God in the temple.

The sufferings of this world often put elders who resist evil in a precarious place. When the fight has been long, it’s difficult to believe attitudes can change. Shortly after Moses led Israel out of Egypt, they complained about a water shortage and demanded God to prove he was among them. Their true nature came to light that day. If Moses failed to do the impossible, provide water for a million people, they were going to stone him. God proved he was among them when he saved Moses life. He instructed Moses to strike the rock at Horeb and water would come out.

Forty years later, Israel gathered around Moses with the same complaint. They still talk like they did when they complained about a water shortage at Horeb, but they are not the same. This time they didn’t have rocks in their hands to kill Moses. They were not demanding God to prove he was among them. The nation had changed. They were still a quarrelsome people but they did not have murder in their hearts anymore. This time God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come out. But Moses was still living in the past. He still saw the nation as they were instead of the kinder nation they had become. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses railed at the people, “You rebels,” and then in anger struck the rock twice.

If Moses had believed in God’s ability to change a nation, he might have seen the change and not been so frustrated by appearances his heart was still at Horeb striking a rock to save his life. God told Moses you didn’t believe in me. You didn’t treat me with holy reverence.  You did not honor me before the people. Therefore, you will die in the wilderness with the rebels who refused to enter the Promised Land because just like you, they didn’t believe I could give them a better world.

I believe the younger David Perkins possesses an accurate view of the world we live in because “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6, NKJV). God sees the tears of the oppressed. He hears their cries. If they call upon him to right an injustice, he is able to change a nation. To suggest that God has shut his ear and failed to act on behalf of an oppressed people is to dishonor God. Instead of making accusations about the intentions of a nation based on experience and statistics, we should spend our time speaking to the rock. He will heal the pain of the past and give us life giving water. He will show us what he is doing in our times and teach us how to live in the present.

It is interesting to note that before Alexander spoke, the subject of a Sabbath rest in God’s presence and how it can change your perspective was addressed at the Thursday evening plenary session. Followed the next morning by a Bible Study calling people to repent for breaking the Sabbath as though it were a suggestion and not a command. For it is during times of rest in God’s presence that he speaks the truth to our hearts.

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
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